Saturday, 5 January 2008

The Wheat goes on

Feed the chin and he will score

Boro secured their place in the 4th round of the FA Cup after coming through a tricky tie at Bristol City with a 2-1 win. David Wheater ended a flowing move to secure the win at Ashton Gate after Boro had once again conceded first.

Gareth Southgate had to contend with a severely depleted squad. Jonathan Woodgate and Jeremie Aliadiere failed late fitness tests, in addition to Taylor, Boateng, O'Neil, Shawky and Mido all being unavailable. Adam Johnson replaced Gary O'Neil on the right side of a five man midfield bolstered by Lee Cattermole. Ben Hutchison made his first start as a lone striker with Tuncay Sanli only a substitute.

Hutchinson had Boro's best effort of a promising start, cutting in from the left before his shot was deflected wide. Hope didn't last too long, as Bristol City took a 19th minute lead. The Boro defence failed to deal with a simple City free-kick and Liam Fontaine poked home from close range. This boosted the Robins' confidence while Hutchinson was growing increasingly isolated up front.

The equaliser came ten minutes before half time and owed much to the ineptitude of home keeper Adriano Basso. Stewart Downing hit a well-struck shot from 10 yards that Basso should of comfortably stopped. However, the ball squirmed under the Brazilian's body, gifting Boro a vital equaliser.

After the break, the visitors began to show their authority. City's attacks were more sporadic but remained dangerous, Marvin Elliott spurning a simple chance after Schwarzer spilled. Boro looked much more composed going forward after Tuncay replaced the ineffective Johnson. In 24 minutes, the Turkish forward showed more skill and flair than either side had hitherto been able to muster, snapping shots away and committing defenders with regularity.

The Turk wasn't involved, however, in the fluent counter-attack that led to the winner. Luke Young slipped the ball into the path of Cattermole on the right side. His intelligent cut back allowed David Wheater, inexplicably charging into the penalty area, to coolly stroke the ball into the corner.

Wheater and his defensive partner Robert Huth were able to deal with the Robins' subsequent attacks with some ease. A place in round 4 secured, and with many Premier League teams humiliated (and I thought Yakubu left to win things!), perhaps the road to Wembley is opening up again.

One price of victory will be a weakened midfield against Liverpool next week. Lee Cattermole and Julio Arca both received deserved yellow cards for a pair of cynical fouls which rule them out of the game. Mohamed Shawky is in Ghana on international duty and George Boateng may not even be a Boro player by next Saturday. The return of Gary O'Neil will be a boon.

Overall, this was a disciplined, battling performance, with Boro finally showing a ruthless edge by exploiting the opportunity given by Basso's error. Attacking flair was largely absent until Tuncay's arrival but, with Wheater's goal, Boro produced the one real moment of quality in the game.

Man of the Match: David Wheater - solid at the back and a goal that evoked memories of Beckenbaeur, Baresi and Sammer. Ahem.

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